If you were to be inexplicably transformed into a European, perhaps suddenly struck with the strange ability to speak German while munching a sausage in the beautiful city of Munich, or if you lost consciousness and awoke to find yourself sipping wine at a cafe in Paris like it’s nobody’s business, or if one moment you were fighting traffic on your commute home through one of any number of American cities, log-jammed during rush hour, and the next you were standing on a plain in Spain enjoying the rain, then you’d of course notice that the situation regarding your healthcare coverage was much improved; but once the shock of being morphed from an American to a European wore off, once you got used to the idea of better healthcare, and if you were a man and needed time to adjust to snug, form-fitting clothes, at that point you would likely notice something very significant about your cable bill or cell phone charges — they’d be lower.
From what I understand, we in the U.S.A. pay more for Internet than anyone in the world. We pay more but we get less. That kind of sucks, yes, but fact-check me, please, if you are the sort of person who does that sort of thing. My guess is that there are enough people who pay in the neighborhood of a hundred bucks a month for their bloody phone plan that I probably don’t need to spend too much time convincing you.
It sucks that we in the States pay more, but there’s a reason why that’s true, and that’s what most interests me. It has to do with economic power. The power of “the man.” Basically, when one company (or a small group of companies) controls the market, that can be a bad thing. It’s called a monopoly, or when a very small group is in control, that’s called an oligarchy. The technical discussions get complex, but basically it goes back to what leftists like myself are so often suspicious of: centralized power, power in the hands of the few. That’s why we make up signs that say “power to the people,” and march around hoping that people will honk their horns supporting whatever activist cause we are agitating for.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves. – Matthew 21
I’m reminded of all because this morning I read through an excellent article by Paul Krugman, Challenging the Oligarchy. Back in the 1950s we in the States made an economic choice: monopolies, we decided, weren’t really all that important anymore. There used to be big trust busters a hundred years ago, notably the big boy himself, Teddy Roosevelt. But under the influence of a 1953 essay by Milton Friedman, we decided that monopolies and centralized power….Meh, maybe not such a big deal. Fast forward to 2015 and we’ve painted ourselves into a corner of “too big to fail” banks, we have a wild child financial sector that no one has tried to tame, and, of course, we’re suckers, paying extra high prices for Internet access without getting anything extra in return.
One of the big shifts that I think we need to make, conceptually, is to realize that the world doesn’t run itself. We make choices, and these choices matter. It may sound like common sense, but a good chunk of Americans still believe that the economy runs according to some nebulous “invisible hand,” some kind of magical force that self-regulates everything. If we don’t interfere with the economy, don’t question it, and don’t even, for god’s sake, look at it for that matter, then everything will be okay. It’s simple, simple magic. For many, this passes as sound economics.
For they know not to do right, saith the Lord, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; An adversary there shall be even round about the land; and he shall bring down thy strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled. – Amos 3
Apart from being really really weird and maybe a little bit creepy — George Bush, the old school father Bush, called it “voodoo economics,” back in the 1980 election when he ran against Ronald Reagan in the Republican primaries — apart from being strangely other-worldly, this view of economics also just makes me laugh. It’s funny. To my mind, it’s a little like saying that a marriage can run itself. If we’d just leave the marriage alone, limit our interference, then it will magically fix itself. Many men might believe this, actually, and these are probably some of the same kinds of men who like to believe that an economy can fix itself, but marriages don’t work that way, and neither do economies. Marriages, like economies, are the product of many different dynamics and a sundry assortment of forces, energies, and inputs. It would be nice if it were as simple as letting it alone, but it isn’t, and it never has been.
The point of this post, and I do have one, is simply to give you permission to say, “screw the man.” As we Americans enter the chaotic nonsense that we call a Presidential election, let’s kick it off with a few resounding expletives. “Screw the man!” Substitute the f-word for “screw” and/or feel free to insert it at various points, salt and pepper it to taste.
Look at your cell phone bill and let it fly: “Screw the man!” You can say this even if you are a Republican. I’m making a bipartisan suggestion today. So, even if Donald Trump is your guy, even if you won’t be caught dead voting for a liberal, and even if you have a sneaking suspicion that somehow all the problems we face go back to leftist agitators like me who can’t leave well enough alone. Well, you’ve still got your bills, and after all, you’re either paying more, or you aren’t. A cable bill is a cable bill is a cable bill. Unless it’s a phone bill, but even then it’s pretty much the same deal. Either way, you’re the one getting screwed.